Alcoholics generally drink excessively, often much more than 4 or 5 drinks per day and in a manner they can’t control. That said, one person’s alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), may manifest differently than another person’s, and their drinking levels can vary considerably. The main facet of AUD is that of compulsive drinking in which a person continues to drink despite negative consequences.
Are you or someone you know struggling with addiction?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) provides 11 criteria for alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction, which can range from mild to severe. Mild AUD includes 2-3 symptoms, moderate is 4-5, and severe is characterized by 6 or more symptoms.
About 10 percent of American adults drink 10 drinks per day.  These individuals likely struggle with alcohol dependence and addiction.
What is Excessive Alcohol Use?
Excessive alcohol use is one of the leading causes of illness, reduced quality of life, and death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking too much in the form of binge drinking, heavy drinking, and alcohol use disorder (AUD) leads to 95,000 preventable deaths, on average, every year.
Binge Drinking Defined
Binge drinking is a common type of excessive drinking and is defined as 4 or more drinks in one sitting for women and 5 or more drinks in one sitting for men.
Binge drinking is dangerous and can quickly lead to severe intoxication, unsafe decisions, increased risk of injury, blacking out, alcohol poisoning or overdose, and more. Drinking four or more drinks most days of the week is a dangerous level of heavy drinking, and it can lead to long-term health problems like liver damage, diabetes, and even cancer.
It’s important to note that most people who engage in binge drinking are not alcoholics. However, it can be a risk factor for the development of AUD.
Heavy Drinking Defined
Heavy drinking is another form of excessive drinking that can be dangerous and lead to alcohol dependence or addiction. It can be defined as 8 or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men. Another definition defines heavy drinking as engaging in binge drinking on 5 or more days in a month. ,
Again, the majority of individuals who engage in heavy drinking do not have alcohol use disorder, but this type of excessive drinking can increase the likelihood of developing AUD.
What is the Medical Definition of Alcohol Addiction?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists three levels of alcohol addiction: mild, moderate, and severe. The manual lists 11 criteria that can determine whether someone has alcohol use disorder:
- You drink more and for longer than you want to.
- You try to cut down on drinking, but you cannot.
- You spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking.
- You have wanted to drink so badly that you could not think of anything else.
- You find that drinking, or being sick after drinking, interferes with your responsibilities like work and family.
- You have continued to drink even though it hurts your relationships with your family and friends.
- You cut back on, or give up on, activities that are important to you in order to drink instead.
- You have, more than once, gotten into situations that could lead to you getting hurt, such as driving while drunk.
- You continued to drink despite knowing it contributes to health problems, including depression and anxiety, or you continued to drink after having a memory blackout.
- You find you need to drink more than you used to in order to feel the same effects, or you have found that your “usual” number of drinks is not effective.
- You experience withdrawal symptoms when you do not drink or as alcohol wears off, including restlessness, trouble sleeping, a racing heart, or nausea.
If one of these statements applies to you, you may engage in a type of excessive drinking like binge drinking or heavy drinking, which can still be dangerous to your health. If two or three of these statements apply to you, you are likely to have a mild type of alcohol addiction or AUD. Four or five statements applying to you suggests you have a moderate addiction to alcohol, while six or more symptoms may indicate a severe addiction.
Seek out a physician, therapist, and addiction specialist so you can get the treatment you need for the level of AUD you experience.
How Many Drinks Per Day is Considered Alcoholism?
Understanding the signs of alcoholism is important, but many people do not know what a standard drink is, so they have a difficult time determining how much alcohol is problematic.
Understanding a Standard Drink
The CDC and other health organizations around the world recommend no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men., And health organizations note that drinking moderately still carries some risks. There is no such thing as safe drinking, only moderate drinking.
Standard alcohol portions are:
- One 12-ounce beer, which has 5 percent alcohol content.
- 8 ounces of malt liquor, which has 7 percent alcohol content.
- 5 ounces of wine, which has 12 percent alcohol content.
- 5 ounces of hard liquor, or 80-proof alcohol, which has 40 percent alcohol content.
It is also important to remember that many bars and restaurants have larger servings than the standard portions. For example, wine often comes in larger glasses and might actually be two servings instead of one; a mixed drink with hard alcohol often has more than one 1.5-ounce shot; and a pint of beer is 16 fluid ounces, not 12 ounces. Plus, many beers these days have much higher alcohol contents than 5 percent—many may be as high as 9 or 10 percent.
How Many Drinks Do Alcoholics Drink?
According to data reported by the Washington Post, about 10 percent of American adults consume about 74 drinks per week, or more than 10 drinks per day. This 10 percent represents about 24 million people. Many of the people in this group likely struggle with alcohol dependence and addiction.
However, alcohol use disorder affects everyone differently. One person might drink a bottle of wine each night while someone else’s alcoholism looks more like binge drinking a few nights a week and abstaining the other nights (despite experiencing cravings or strong urges to drink).
For that reason, there is no specific number of daily drinks that defines alcoholism. Rather, defining alcoholism is less about the exact number of drinks a person consumes and more about their behaviors and drinking patterns. However, if you are researching how many drinks an alcoholic consumes, this may signal a drinking problem.
Alcohol Addiction Gets Worse Over Time
Alcohol addiction is a progressive condition, which means that it tends to get worse the longer it goes untreated. In this way, someone may progress from a mild addiction to moderate to severe over time. And as their AUD worsens, they will likely begin to drink more and more.
This is because regular drinking leads to tolerance, which means that a person may need to consume more alcohol to experience intoxication. When a person first starts drinking, they may experience a buzz after one or two drinks. But as they continue drinking, they will need a higher number of drinks or stronger drinks to feel drunk or intoxicated.
In this way, instead of trying to define alcoholism by a static number of drinks, it may be wiser to characterize it by an ever-increasing amount of drinks. Did you start out consuming one or two drinks per night but find that now you need three or four to feel the same effects? As time goes on and you continue drinking, you may find that you need more and more alcohol to feel relaxation or euphoria.
How Many People Have Alcoholism?
The National Institute on Alcohol Addiction and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has found that nearly 15 million people, ages 12 and older, meet the DSM-5’s criteria for alcohol addiction. 
While many people who have problematic drinking patterns like binge or heavy drinking are not necessarily addicted to alcohol, millions of people do have alcohol use disorder and need evidence-based treatment, including detox and treatment. If you are looking for an alcohol rehab program, contact us at Boca Recovery Center—we can help you on the road to recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Consumption & Addiction
If you are only drinking one 5-ounce glass of wine with dinner, and not drinking more before or after the meal, this is well within the guidelines of moderate drinking. For women, drinking one glass of wine per night, less than seven days per week, is moderate drinking. For men, two glasses of wine per night is moderate drinking. While you may still experience some side effects from drinking this frequently, it is not considered AUD or addiction. However, if your standard glass of wine is part of drinking more throughout the night, drinking consistently during the day, drinking too much on a weekend, or following other problematic drinking patterns, you may meet the DSM-5’s criteria for alcohol addiction. You can get help from an experienced physician or therapist for a diagnosis.
Again, this does not necessarily classify as addiction. However, if those five drinks are consumed in one evening or at one event, this is binge drinking, and it can be very dangerous to your health. Having between five and seven drinks spread throughout the week is a type of moderate drinking, which might still have some health effects.
Stopping habitual behaviors can be difficult for anyone, but people who are addicted to alcohol need additional medical support. If you meet the criteria for AUD, get in touch with a doctor or counselor for a diagnosis and referrals to treatment. If you struggle with excessive drinking but are not physically dependent on alcohol, you may not need the detox step of recovery, but you may still benefit from support and therapy to manage compulsive behaviors and cravings. You can ask a doctor, therapist, or support group for help.
An alcoholic is someone who meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder. The criteria does not list a certain number of drinks but rather outlines certain behaviors related to drinking. If your drinking is compulsive or uncontrollable, then you may have this condition.
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association. (2013).
- Alcohol Use and Your Health. (May 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5. (April 2021). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
- Drinking Levels Defined. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
- Think You Drink a Lot? This Chart Will Tell You. (September 2014). The Washington Post.
- Alcohol Facts and Statistics. (June 2021). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).